NECN.com | January 23, 2013
(NECN) – Wednesday morning’s Green Line fire wasn’t just an inconvenience for MBTA riders – it was also an opportunity for Mass. Governor Deval Patrick to make a point about his new budget.
The budget includes more than $1 billion in new transportation spending, some of which would be used to upgrade the antiquated MBTA system.
The Governor’s transportation plan comes at an average cost of $1 billion more a year in taxes and fees. It includes big-ticket projects, such as a $1.8 billion commuter rail extension to Fall River and New Bedford known as the South Coast Rail.
James Stergios and Stephanie Pollack have been combing through the Governor’s transportation plan with professional eyes.
Stergios is the executive director of the Pioneer Institute, and Pollack is the associate director at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, which is part of the Transportation for Massachusetts Coalition.
Watch the attached video for the complete discussion.
By Eric Moskowitz | The Boston Globe | January 4, 2013
Governor Deval Patrick said Friday that he will unveil a proposal later this month to raise the necessary money through taxes or fees to fix the state’s financially beleaguered transportation network.
Patrick declined to say how he would raise the money or how much he would seek. Past reports have identified an annual gap of roughly $1 billion between what the system needs and what the state raises and spends.
But his comments add to a growing sense of inevitability on Beacon Hill that residents will be asked to pay more to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure and confront years of red ink.
Legislative leaders who previously embraced a policy of “reform before revenue” appear to be shifting from asking whether more money is needed to asking how to raise that money and where to spend it.
Speaking to reporters Thursday and again Friday, Patrick did not use the word “taxes” when he spoke of financing options but was steadfast about the need for revenue. He framed the issue around invigorating the economy and enhancing mobility statewide, not taxing and spending.
“I’ve not started with where the revenue ought to come from,” Patrick said, explaining that the transportation financing plan that the Legislature called for by Jan. 7 would be delayed a week. “I’ve started from the perspective of what is the transportation system that we need to be a 21st century economy and how does that touch every corner of the Commonwealth.”
Lawmakers called for the plan last June while approving emergency funding to help the MBTA balance its budget this fiscal year and avoid massive service cuts and even larger fare increases than the ones that took effect last summer.
That plan will detail how much money is needed to end structural deficits plaguing highway and transit operations. For years, annual expenses — for asphalt and diesel fuel, employee health insurance, and electricity — have risen faster than the state’s five sources for funding transportation: the gas tax, transit fares, highway tolls, Registry of Motor Vehicles fees, and a share of the sales tax.
The plan is also expected to spell out how much it would cost to address a vast maintenance backlog and fund strategic expansion projects. Those costs will be coupled with what Patrick called a “menu of ideas” for raising money, whether through existing sources or new taxes or fees. His recommendations will follow in his statewide budget proposal.
But after being briefed on the report, Patrick asked the team to put in another week to spell out more fully how it would benefit residents and businesses from the Berkshires to the Cape, whether they rely on roads or rails, waterways or airports.
“The reason I sent them back is not because we were quarreling over what the sources [of money] ought to be,” Patrick added, “but rather to make sure we are focusing on the economic growth opportunities in every corner of the Commonwealth.”
Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo placed transportation near the top of their agendas, addressing lawmakers at the start of the new session this week.
Neither said taxes, and each emphasized vigilance in pursuing cost-saving measures. But DeLeo acknowledged the need “to make investments” to ensure that transportation statewide “will be safe and will be state-of-the-art.”
Murray addressed “a daunting long-term need to update our infrastructure systems,” and in noting reforms imposed over the past four years, sent a signal many interpreted as acknowledging the need for revenues, as well.
“The positive news is that the governor, Senate president, and House speaker have all stated publicly that transportation funding is a priority,” said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and a member of a bipartisan commission that issued a pair of influential reports on the transportation-funding crisis in 2007. “[But] there is likely to be a very contentious debate about how much new revenue to raise, by what means, and how.”
Part of the debate will be over whether the money should come from transportation sources, like gas taxes or tolls, and be locked in for transportation spending, or whether transportation should be supported from general funds and a broader source like the income tax.
“I think there’s greater public acceptance when you look at revenue measures that are related to users of the transportation system,” such as tolls, fares, and fees for driving and riding transit, said Representative William M. Straus, who was House chairman of the Joint Transportation Committee last session and is expected to be renamed.
Straus, who supports substantial investment, providing it reaches statewide, said the alternative is to “freeze our transportation system in time and declare ourselves something like a modern Old Sturbridge Village.”
But the debate this year will be challenging, given general reluctance to raise taxes, as well as disagreements over how to raise and spend them.
“I wouldn’t take anything as a foregone conclusion,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said.
Some advocates are calling instead for raising the income tax rate back to 5.95 percent, spreading the money not just to transportation but to education and other priorities.
“We’re interested in an overall solution that would actually make the system more fair,” said Andi Mullin, director of a coalition of labor unions and others known as the Campaign for Our Communities, calling the gas tax regressive because it has a greater impact on lower-income drivers.
If a billion-dollar annual transportation shortfall seems staggering to the public, it surprises none of the analysts who have studied the issue for years.
Though MBTA riders are accustomed to waiting for 40-year-old subway cars and though night and weekend bus service is rare in most regions beyond Greater Boston, drivers have been shielded from the crisis.
Heavy borrowing has helped the state address the worst highway and bridge problems, though without realistic payment plans. Even basic maintenance and payroll has been substantially funded with borrowing since the 1990s.
“We basically charged everything to a credit card, with no idea how we were going to pay anything more than the minimum,” said Stephanie Pollack, associate director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and an adviser on Patrick’s transition team after his first election.
The causes include resistance to raising tolls and gas taxes, disappointing sales tax receipts through multiple recessions and a shift toward online shopping, and the sleight-of-hand employed to finance the Big Dig after the federal government capped reimbursement of the escalating costs.
In 2007, the Transportation Finance Commission identified a $15 billion to $19 billion gap over 20 years between projected transportation revenues and the cost of operating and repairing the system, which Patrick’s plan will revisit. The commission proposed 22 changes to save $2.5 billion; the rest, it said, required taxes or fees.
But when Patrick sought to raise the gas tax, lawmakers called for reform first. In 2009 they merged the Turnpike Authority, MassHighway, and other agencies into one Department of Transportation, saving on shared expenses such as plowing and by refinancing bad debt.
They moved MassDOT employees into the state’s lower-cost Group Insurance Commission, and for new MBTA workers ended the policy allowing them to retire with a full pension after just 23 years. And the Patrick administration pushed for civilian flaggers instead of costlier police details.
That complemented ongoing work to streamline the T, once lampooned for bloat but now competitive with peers when measuring operating expense per passenger and mile. It provides more service with fewer employees and generates more from advertising and other internal sources than a decade ago.
“We can continue to reduce costs, but we can’t do what the public has asked of us, rightfully so, with reform alone,” Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said.
The 2007 commission reports were full of dire and urgent warnings. The need for revenue remains the same, even if it is a tall legislative order, said Stephen J. Silveira, the Republican lobbyist who chaired the commission.
Raising taxes to provide necessary services never won anyone an award, he said. “This is just about people doing the right thing.”
Deal, which could arrive in mid-November, would be for 130 cars totaling $352.3 million
A rail manufacturer based in Illinois is in the final rounds of bidding to build 130 high-speed passenger rail cars for use on Amtrak routes in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and California.
The order would total $352.3 million.
The bid was submitted by Sumitomo Corp. of America and Nippon Sharyo U.S.A., which opened a $35 million passenger rail car plant in Rochelle in July.
The Rochelle plant is also making 160 “Highliner” rail cars for Metra Electric line customers in the Chicago area, as well as 12 diesel cars for California’s Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, 18 cars for Metrolinx in Toronto and eight bilevel passenger cars for the Virginia Railway Express in Alexandria, Va.
Illinois officials hope the announcement helps attract more manufactures to the state, especially those involved in rail equipment. Gov. Pat Quinn said a deal, expected by mid-November following an audit by the Federal Railroad Administration, could mark a “historic beginning to increased rail equipment manufacturing, assembly and production in Illinois.”
Rochelle Mayor Chet Olson said the plant has sparked interest in the area. “We are already seeing an upside in businesses and other companies contacting us to look at the area and look at the logistics.”
To lure Nippon Sharyo to Rochelle, various governmental units including Rochelle ponied up about $11 million in incentives.
The state in 2010 offered an incentives package worth more than $4.7 million composed of training funds, grants and corporate income tax credits over 10 years. The Illinois Department of Transportation kicked in another $5.5 million to build a rail spur from the BNSF Railway main line to the new factory, and Rochelle offered $866,000 in incentives.
In return, Nippon Sharyo pledged to create at least 250 jobs in Illinois and to retain 15 workers from its office in Arlington Heights.
The rail cars will include wireless Internet access and must meet Buy America requirements, which allow companies to tap into federal incentives through states, municipalities or transit authorities. Under the requirements, companies have to produce 60 percent of the total value of the rail cars in the U.S. The final assembly must be done by American workers with American-produced steel, iron and manufactured components.
A spokesman for Nippon Sharyo said the company is excited about the project, but he declined to make further comment.
Most of the funding for the cars will come from Federal Railroad Administration grants totaling $808 million. A portion of that money will be used to fund high-performance diesel locomotives capable of sustaining 125 mph, and for making single-level passenger cars.
Existing Amtrak locomotives would be used initially to propel the new rail cars at speeds of up to 110 mph. The request for proposals to make the new locomotives is expected to take place by the end of the year.
“This is good use of federal money,” said Joan Fitzgerald, interim dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University and co-author of the report, “Reviving the U.S. Rail and Transit Industry: Investments and Job Creation.”
The 2010 report said a $12 billion investment in rail vehicles and bus purchases would create more than 79,000 jobs. If the U.S. invested $37.2 billion — a level comparable to China’s investment in rail and bus vehicles — more than 250,000 jobs could be created, according to the report.
“You’ve got to start somewhere revitalizing passenger rail,” Fitzgerald said. “These are good manufacturing jobs.”
The cars are expected to be delivered between fall 2015 and early 2018. California will receive 42 rail cars. Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri will divide the remaining 88.
Tribune reporter Jon Hilkevitch contributed.
By Eric Moskowitz | The Boston Globe | July 25, 2012
Doug Taylor used to get to work the way most Americans do, driving alone. Then he switched jobs to one of the many Kendall Square companies that offer financial incentives for employees to leave their cars at home. After trying the commuter rail, the 48-year-old Medford resident soon discovered he could pocket even more by biking.
Though Taylor had not owned a bicycle since high school, he now pedals 12 miles most days, taking the T occasionally, driving rarely.
“I enjoy the freedom of doing it and the exercise,” said Taylor, associate director since January of an economic research group at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals. “Between riding the bike and the amount of walking I’ve done to and from [the T], I’ve actually lost 12 pounds.”
Taylor is part of a set of statistics so surprising it looks like a mistake. Despite the rapid expansion in and around Kendall Square in the last decade — the neighborhood absorbed a 40 percent increase in commercial and institutional space, adding 4.6 million square feet of development — automobile traffic actually dropped on major streets, with vehicle counts falling as much as 14 percent.
Although more commuters are churning in and out of Kendall each day, many more than ever are going by T, bike, car pool, or foot.
“As someone who has actually lived and worked here all that time, I can tell you, it’s true,” said Tim Rowe, founder and chief executive of the Cambridge Innovation Center and president of the Kendall Square Association.
Consider One Broadway, where the innovation center spans seven floors. In 2000, it had just one simple bike rack. Now, it has an electronically locked indoor cage and three indoor racks; outside, the city added sidewalk locking posts and reclaimed automobile parking for on-street bike racks, all of which are often full.
The trend has challenged longtime assumptions by developers and neighborhood advocates about the amount of parking and traffic a new building needs and generates.
“When you look at what’s happened with traffic, it has not been the scary scenario that people feared,” said Assistant City Manager Brian P. Murphy, Cambridge’s community development director.
Part of the credit goes to broad trends: higher gas prices; the growing popularity of biking; the increasing number of professionals, especially in Kendall’s “knowledge economy,” who want to live in urban areas and do not need to drive to work.
But the shift from driving in Kendall Square is about more than the luck of location and transit access. Since 1998, the city has required commercial and institutional developers who add parking spaces to actively discourage people from using them. The policy is supported by statistical targets and annual monitoring, tools that have made Cambridge’s Parking and Transportation Demand Management Ordinance not just a pie-in-the-sky resolution but a case study examined by local and national planners.
In Cambridge, any developer who builds or expands a garage or lot and winds up with at least five parking spaces must pick from an array of options to encourage greener transportation, from subsidizing MBTA passes, charging employees to park, and underwriting a shuttle that supplements the T, to offering bike tune-up days, building locker rooms and showers, and guaranteeing an emergency ride for those suddenly needing a car.
Developers with at least 20 spaces must meet city-set goals aimed at reducing the percentage of workers who drive.
At Ironwood, where the target is 50 percent, employees get $100 a month toward commuting costs. If they drive, they can apply it to the $220 a month they pay to park. If they take the T, they can spend it pretax on passes ordered through the company.
They can also board the EZRide, a bus paid for by employers and workers that connects Cambridgeport, Kendall, Lechmere, and North Station, eliminating indirect subway connections for commuter rail riders. It has grown from 200 to 2,500 daily riders since 2002.
And the employees keep whatever remains of their $100-a-month subsidy, a sum that adds up for cyclists like Taylor. Those choices helped Ironwood reduce its drive-alone employees to 41 percent last year, down from 50 percent in 2007.
When Novartis moved into the renovated Necco candy factory in 2004, the city set its driving target at 44 percent, meaning the company had to persuade more than half its workers to use other modes of transportation. For those who drove, the pharmaceutical giant built a 350-space garage, but planned to use stackers to park more in double-decker fashion, said Susanne Rasmussen, Cambridge’s director of environmental and transportation planning. Even with 1,200-plus employees there, Novartis, which provides up to $125 a month toward T passes but charges $250 for parking, has never needed the stackers. Just 33 percent of employees drove alone last year.
Though the city can impose fines and even shut down parking at workplaces that fail to comply, it has never needed those tools and only rarely must apply pressure to ensure compliance, said Stephanie Groll, manager of the Cambridge program.
Green-commuting benefits have become woven into the workplace culture of Kendall, offered even by companies not covered by the ordinance.
Companies have a vested interest in preserving the qualities that make Kendall attractive to employees, given its emergence as a vibrant, walkable neighborhood with amenities, said Stephanie Pollack, associate director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.
“If you work on [Route] 128, you have to get in the car to go get something to eat or go to the gym, and you don’t do that in Kendall,” Pollack said.
With high demand to locate in Kendall, the next test will be whether Cambridge can turn up the dial on the ordinance to invite even more development without clogging traffic.
The power may be out of Cambridge’s hands. The MBTA’s financial woes limit its ability to meet bus demand in Kendall and to invest in upgrades to an antiquated Red Line signal system that limits the frequency of subway trains.
So a new kind of congestion — waiting for the T, jostling for position in bike lanes — is supplanting traffic worries, which officials call a good problem to have.
At the Broad Institute, where 24 percent of employees drove alone last year, scientist and veteran cyclist Mauricio Carneiro, 32, of Charlestown said he is having a harder time finding bike parking. And as more people toggle between the T and bicycling, depending on the weather, Carneiro is navigating among newcomers.
“In the summer, we’ll get really crowded with bikes,” said Carneiro, whose benefits include $20 a month to spend on bicycle expenses such as inner tubes and helmets. But he wouldn’t think of driving.
“It’s my wake-up procedure,” he said, “getting on the bike.”
Artur Mas, the 129th president of the government of Catalonia, Spain, said on Wednesday morning at Northeastern University that his community of roughly 7 million people strives to emulate Massachusetts’ economic success.
“We can learn from each other,” Mas said. “Of course we would love to have your [gross domestic product] and are envious of your universities and research centers.”
Mas addressed more than two dozen members of the Northeastern community and a contingent of reporters who gathered in the Raytheon Amphitheater for a transportation seminar with Catalonian experts from government and the private sector. Later in the afternoon at the BIO International Convention in Boston, Mas signed an agreement with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to expand Catalonia’s innovation partnership with the state.
The World Class Cities Partnership, an initiative of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, hosted the event. The goal of the WCCP is to bring together civic, business and academic leaders from cities throughout the globe for the purpose of creating sustainable social change through policy research, and the development and implementation of best-practice solutions to common challenges.
The all-day program featured panel discussions on the expansion of Barcelona’s public transit system and the organization and financing of public transportation infrastructure.
Catalonia, an autonomous community in northeast Spain, has become a world leader in sustainable and economically efficient transportation infrastructure, due in large part to its high-speed railway service to Paris.
Mas said Catalonia has developed one of the most-used metro systems in world, eclipsing more than 1 billion passenger rides in 2011. Children under 12 ride for free and low-income residents receive an 80 percent discount. Handicapped metro users have easy access to elevators and escalators.
“Our transportation system is truly for everyone,” Mas explained.
Catalonia, he said, must often do more with less. The Spanish community lacks natural resources and land, but makes up for its shortcomings with intellectual capital.
As Mas put it, “We have created a wealth of knowledge and technology.”
Northeastern’s Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Michael Dukakis, who has long advocated for a national network of high-speed rail lines, expressed disappointment with our country’s mass-transit system.
“We are not exceptional when it comes to transportation infrastructure,” he said in his welcoming remarks, noting the dichotomy between the transportation systems in the United States and South Korea, which he called “one of the finest” in the world.
Alan Solomont, the United States ambassador to Spain and Andorra, praised Catalonia’s high-speed rail in his introduction of Mas, saying, “It’s never been late, it’s smooth and it’s quick.”
He highlighted the close relationship between the U.S. and Spain, pointing to his political strategy of “putting economic policy at the forefront of foreign policy.”
“We have helped American companies in Spain compete on a level playing field,” Solomont explained. “Spain has more assets and the economy has more strengths” than the country gets credit for, he added.